…Says States Lack Power to Investigate the Police In a dramatic turnaround, the Nigeria Police Force has approached the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking an order stopping the Judicial Panels of Inquiry set up by the different states to probe allegations of rights abuses and other acts of brutality by the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery
…Says States Lack Power to Investigate the Police
In a dramatic turnaround, the Nigeria Police Force has approached the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking an order stopping the Judicial Panels of Inquiry set up by the different states to probe allegations of rights abuses and other acts of brutality by the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other Police tactical units.
The National Economic Council (NEC), led by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, had mandated the states to set up the various panels of inquiry in the aftermath of the recent nationwide #EndSARS protests called to push against Police brutality of the citizenry. The council includes the 36 state Governors. The panels have kick started their sittings in almost all the states.
However, in a suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/1492/2020, the Police urged the court to restrain the Attorneys-General of the 36 states of the federation and their various panels of inquiry from going ahead with their investigations.
There are 104 defendants in the suit. It comprises the Attorney-General of the Federation, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which set up the Independent Investigative Panel sitting in Abuja, the Attorneys-General of the states, and chairmen of the states’ panels.
The Police, through their lawyer, Mr O. M. Atoyebi (SAN), argued that the state governments lacked the power to constitute the panels to investigate activities of the police force and its officials in the conduct of their statutory duties.
They further noted that the state governments’ decision to set up such panels violated the provisions of section 241(1)(2)(a) and Item 45, Part 1, First Schedule to the Constitution and Section 21 of the Tribunals of Inquiry Act.
The plaintiff argued that by virtue of the provisions of 241(1)(2)(a) and Item 45, Part 1, First Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution only the Federal Government had exclusive power to “organise, control and administer the Nigeria Police Force”.
It, therefore, urged the court to, among others, declare that “the establishment of a panel of enquiries by the Governors of the various states of the federation of Nigeria, to inquire into the activities of the Nigeria Police Force in relation to the discharge of her statutory duties is a gross violation of the provisions of Section 241 (1)(2) (a) and Item 45, Part 1, First schedule, 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 21 of the tribunals of inquiry Act, Cap.T21, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
The plaintiff also urged the court to declare that “having regard to the circumstances of this case, the attitude of the Governors of the various states of the Federation of Nigeria, in this case, is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever”.
The Police is also seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 3rd to 38th defendants (the state Attorneys-General of the 36 states) “from making or conducting any investigations, sittings, and inquiries and/or from making or conducting any further investigations, sittings and inquiries in respect of matters affecting the Nigeria Police Force, and or further setting up any panel of inquiry in any state whatsoever in the country”.
This move is being interpreted as part of the grand design by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to stalemate the work of the different panels which sittings have been dogged by sordid revelations on the activities of officials of the disbanded SARS, which may not be pleasing to the Police authorities and the government.
The government which has through its agencies and hirelings have shown its high handedness at getting back at leaders of the #EndSARS protests sending signals that it is not prepared to be binded by the outcome of the judicial panels.
Last October, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) sought an order of the court to freese 20 accounts said to be operated by leaders of the #EndSARS protests. An activist suspected to be acting at the instance of government also sued 50 leaders of the campaign, seeking for compensation of his property damaged after the protests were hijacked by hoodlums. At least one of the leaders who had an engagement abroad saw the trip aborted and her passport confiscated.
A leading human rights Lawyer, Mr Femi Aborisade has condemned “the arrest, detention and arraignment of unofficial leaders of #EndSARS protest movement, the seizure of international passports of some of them and the freezing of their accounts through ex-parte orders obtained by the CBN, as amounting to a criminalization of the exercise of the freedom to protest peacefully, which is donated by section 40 of the Constitution as a fundamental right.”
“The clampdown on the unofficial leaders of the #EndSARS movement shows that the Federal Government has concluded they are criminals in spite of the impression given that the various Panels of Inquiry set up at the state levels are to provide appropriate remedies for those who have suffered abuse of rights in the hands of security agencies,” he says.
But the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, however says, the government has demonstrated responsibility as far as the #EndSARS protest is concerned. Pointing to government’s acceptance of the five point demand of the #EndSARS protests, the disbandment of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad and the setting up of the judicial panels of inquiry by the different states, he affirmed that the government had shown enough “responsibility” on this matter.